Counting taking place in Irish general election

Counting is continuing in the Irish general election as an exit poll puts the three main political parties tied in first preference votes.

Ballot boxes from across the 39 constituencies were opened at 09:00 local time.

Indications from the exit poll suggest there is little difference in percentage terms between Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil.

Early tallies at count centres suggest a Sinn Féin surge...

Irish general election: Counting taking place across the country

BBC News
9 February 2020

Ballot boxes are opened at the RDS in Dublin at the start of the Irish general election count on Sunday

Counting is continuing in the Irish general election as an exit poll puts the three main political parties tied in first preference votes.

Ballot boxes from across the 39 constituencies were opened at 09:00 local time.

Indications from the exit poll suggest there is little difference in percentage terms between Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil.

Early tallies at count centres suggest a Sinn Féin surge.

From left: Micheál Martin (Fianna Fáil), Leo Varadkar (Fine Gael) and Mary Lou McDonald (Sinn Féin)

Arriving at the RDS count centre in Dublin on Sunday afternoon, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said she was exploring options to see if it would be possible to form a government without either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil.

She said this election was about "change".

"The frustration people have felt for a long time with the two-party system, whereby Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil handed the baton of power between each other - that's now over."

She said it was fair to say this election had been "historic" and a "something of a revolution in the ballot box".

"We now have a very substantial mandate," she said.

The exit poll - commissioned jointly by Irish national broadcasters RTÉ and TG4, as well as The Irish Times and University College Dublin - indicates that Fine Gael - led by Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar - secured 22.4% of first preference votes, closely followed by Sinn Féin (22.3%) and Fianna Fáil (22.2%).

Seat predictions published by University College Dublin suggest the parties will be almost equal in terms of seats as well.

Ireland's elections are carried out under the proportional representation (PR) voting system, using the single transferable vote (STV). Voters wrote "1" opposite their first choice candidate, "2" opposite their second choice, "3" opposite their third choice and so on.

This means that the picture presented when the first preference votes are counted does not completely reflect the final outcome.

Ballot papers are stacked at the RDS in Dublin during the Irish general election count

Sinn Féin also ran 42 candidates across the 39 multi-seat constituencies, about half that of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, which will have a knock-on effect on the number of seats it can secure.

The exit poll also suggests the Green Party secured 7.9% of first preference votes, followed by Labour (4.6%), Social Democrats (3.4%), Solidarity People Before Profit (2.8%).

Indications are that Independents took 11.2% of first preference votes.

The poll suggests a move toward Sinn Féin among younger voters, with the party receiving the largest number of first preference votes among 18-24 years olds (31.8%).

Voting papers are organised at the counting centre at the RDS in Dublin on Sunday

The majority of voters over the age of 65 appear to have given their first preference to Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil.

There is a margin of error of 1.3% in either direction in the exit poll.

Political pundits have predicted that some government ministers could lose out, if early projections are correct.

RTÉ has said the potential casualties could include Transport Minister Shane Ross in Dublin-Rathdown, an independent who first won a Dáil seat in 2011.

Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, is also in difficulty in Dublin South-West, the broadcaster said.

Former Labour leader and tánaiste (deputy prime minister) Joan Burton, first being elected to the Dáil in 1992, is also likely to lose her seat, RTÉ said.

RTÉ said voting appears to have been "solid".

However, there is no expectation of a spike in voting compared to 2016, despite it being the first ever Saturday general election vote in the state's history.

Factors that may have affected turnout include the poor weather and international rugby.

A total of 160 representatives will be returned to the Dáil (Irish parliament) and newly elected TDs will gather on 20 February .

The ceann comhairle, or speaker, is automatically re-elected.

In most situations, the speaker does not vote, so a government will need 80 TDs to hold a majority.

It is unlikely that any party will reach that number, so another coalition government is probable, although the composition is still unclear.

Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have said they would not enter coalition with Sinn Féin.

Fine Gael leader almost lost his own election yesterday as Sinn Fein comes up to beat both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. This is crucial for Brexit talks between the UK and the EU. In other news, France and Macron have new demands for Britain to be fully aligned to EU rules forever in any future trade deals.
Leo Varadkar has paid the price for banging on about Brexit

Brendan O'Neill
12 February 2020
The Spectator

There has been a revolt in Ireland. Not a huge one. It isn’t a Brexit-sized rebellion. It isn’t an all-out populist protest against the establishment of the kind we have seen in the US and various European countries in recent years. But still, the result of Saturday’s general election is a brilliant blow against the Irish establishment and its obsessively pro-EU, anti-Brexit leanings.

People are talking up the election result as a humiliation for Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar. It certainly is that. Varadkar’s attempt to make the election about Brexit — and about his apparently brave efforts to frustrate Brexit — fell spectacularly flat.

But Varadkar isn’t the only one who failed to make Brexitphobia the organising principle of Irish political life. Vast swathes of the Dublin elite were likewise obsessed with Brexit. And now all of them have been exposed as being utterly out of touch with ordinary Irish people.

The results are striking. Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, the parties that sprung from the Irish Civil War of the 1920s and which dominated Irish politics for decades, are in serious decline. Between them, these parties once commanded more than 80 per cent of the Irish vote. In Saturday’s election, they got around 43 per cent of the vote. Ireland is emerging from the shadow of the Civil War and that’s no bad thing.

Fine Gael’s failures are particularly striking given that Varadkar had become a globally talked-about, much-cheered national leader over the past couple of years. In the 2011 general election, Fine Gael (led by Enda Kenny) won 76 seats in the Dail. In the 2016 election (still led by Kenny) it got 50 seats. This time around, led by the Brussels-feted figure of Leo Varadkar, it got 35 seats. Oh dear.

Understandably, many people are focusing on the Sinn Fein surge. Sinn Fein won 37 seats in the Dail, coming a very close second to Fianna Fail. That a party like Sinn Fein should push Fine Gael into third place is indeed extraordinary.

But the question is why Sinn Fein was able to do this. Both the right-wingers who are fretting that the vote for Sinn Fein represents a return to hardcore republicanism and the leftists excitedly talking up Sinn Fein as a radical voice in 21st century Ireland are missing the key dynamic here. Sinn Fein did well because, unlike the technocratic, globally-inclined Dublin elites, it focused mostly on national and local issues, on things people are actually concerned about. Housing, health, jobs.

Fine Gael’s catastrophic failure in this election is a searing indictment of the Varadkar approach to politics. Over the past couple of years, Varadkar allowed himself to become a patsy of the EU. He turned Ireland into little more than a battering ram against Brexit. With no sense of shame, he reduced himself to a pliant tool of the EU establishment, continually doing its bidding against Brexit by obsessing over (and exaggerating) the impact Brexit would have on the border in Ireland and on economic life in Ireland.

For this, he was celebrated in Brussels and Paris. He was cheered by European technocrats. He became a hero of Remainers in the UK. He was applauded by establishment lackeys at the Irish Times. And he got so carried away with being fawned over by foreign bureaucrats and pro-EU luvvies that he forgot about, or simply ignored, his own people and the issues they consider to be important.

Sure, he got pats on the back from powerful people in Paris and Berlin, but what about working people in Galway or Cork? Well, now we know what they think of Varadkar’s creepy love-ins with Eurocrats and his obsessive focus on the evils of Brexit — not much.

Here is the most staggering statistic from the Irish election: just one per cent of voters said Brexit was a deciding factor in how they voted. According to an exit poll by Ipsos/MRBI, voters were far more driven by concerns about healthcare (32 per cent), housing (26 per cent), and pension issues (eight per cent).

So there was the Taoiseach making speeches and writing articles for newspapers across Europe about the scourge of Brexit, while the people of Ireland were thinking about more pressing national issues. You couldn’t ask for a better snapshot of the chasm-sized moral and political divide that now separates the technocratic establishment from everyday voters.

But it wasn’t only Varadkar who constantly and madly banged the Brexit-loathing drum. Dinner-party circles in Dublin talked about little else. From Fintan O’Toole’s anti-Brexit ramblings to every political talk show on RTE, Ireland’s great and good droned on endlessly about the horribleness of Brexit and the wonderfulness of the EU.

Every time I’ve been on the Irish media over the past year I’ve been up against three or four people insisting Brexit is the worst disaster to befall Ireland since colonisation. It was nuts. And we now know that ordinary Irish people did not share this feverish loathing of Britain’s exit from the EU. The blinkered, elitist and often quite sneering worldview of virtually the entire Dublin chattering class has been wonderfully exposed by this election.

Varadkar made himself a globetrotting spokesman for Brexitphobia, and the Irish people just weren’t interested. There’s a lesson in this for political elites across Europe: quit your anti-democratic sucking-up to Brussels and listen to your own people for a change.
Coffee House

Leo Varadkar has been hung out to dry by the EU

Ross Clark

Ross Clark
21 February 2020
The Spectator

A year ago, did anyone look like they would come out of Brexit better than Leo Varadkar? Here was a leader of a small country on the fringe of the EU suddenly catapulted to its centre. He was the one pushed forward by Juncker, Barnier, Merkel and Macron, as they sought to leverage advantage from the tricky problem of the Irish border. Not only was Varadkar seen to be standing up for the Republic’s interest, but by driving a wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, he seemed to be setting himself up as the instigator of possible Irish reunification – he was drawing the issue away from the nationalists.

Last night, Varadkar resigned as Taoiseach after a humiliating general election defeat two weeks ago. Hardly any voters seemed interested in rewarding him for standing up for Ireland’s interests in the Brexit negotiations, and while Brexit seems to have rekindled the nationalists’ hope of Irish unity it wasn’t Varadkar and Fine Gael who prospered – it was the full-fat nationalists in the shape of Sinn Fein.

But the humiliation is not entirely over for Varadkar. For the moment, he stays on as caretaker leader until a government can be formed. In that capacity, it has fallen to him to negotiate the EU’s budget for the next seven years. These were never going to be easy negotiations given that the EU’s coffers have just been left with a Britain-sized hole. But if Varadkar was expecting any favours from the EU for his role in Brexit negotiations he has been left sorely disappointed. Ireland has been asked to pay more into the EU’s coffers while suffering sharp cuts both to payments for farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy and to infrastructure under EU cohesion funds. Varadkar has called the proposals ‘unacceptable’, but is unlikely to win any concessions given that Germany and a bundle of other Northern European ‘frugals’ are holding out strongly against any increased burden on them.

The sad thing is that Varadkar was exploited and now he has been hung out to dry. During the Brexit talks, he was drafted in to do the EU’s dirty work for it. The EU hit upon the issue of the Irish border as a device to try to trap the UK in EU regulations forever and Varadkar was used in order to help exaggerate the border issue. It never did make much sense why Britain would have to remain in full alignment with EU regulations purely to avoid a hard border in Ireland when Switzerland has a free-flowing border with several EU countries in spite of not being a member of the EU, the single market or the customs union. Even so, the EU nearly pulled off its trick. Had parliament voted for Theresa May’s deal – which even Boris and Jacob Rees-Mogg did at the third time of asking – the EU would now be rubbing its hands having neutralised the threat of a competitive, free-trading and deregulated Britain.

But the ruse failed, and with it, Varadkar’s stock has taken a horrible plunge. Let his fate serve as a warning to the leaders of other small EU countries – don’t expect any reward for acts of loyalty towards the EU’s leaders.